Inspiring recovery at heart of Awakenings
A tragic accident and the inspiring rehabilitation of executive director Laura Karch-Capitelli ultimately led to the creation of the Awakenings Health Institute.
Started in 2004, Solana Beach-based Awakenings Health Institute (AHI) is a nonprofit facility providing exercise-based, post-acute rehabilitation for people with neurological disorders an disabilities. In its 2,600-square-foot facility, AHI’s five staff members treat clients with conditions including, but not limited to, spinal cord injury, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Ataxia, fibromyalgia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy.
The comprehensive, holistic, functional approach to rehabilitative care at AHI includes personal training, locomotor training, massage, acupuncture, nutrition classes, craniosacral therapy, Reiki and herbal medicine.
“We’re teaching a healthy lifestyle,” said Karch-Capitelli, who noted that clients receive one-on-one attention and benefit from peer support at AHI. In addition to exercise physiology credentials, AHI employees are trained to support the emotional and psychological well being of their clients, an approach that focuses on increasing the self-confidence and independence of those who seek treatment at AHI.
AHI has its roots in an accident that altered Karch-Capitelli’s life.
Fifteen years ago, the Pennsylvania native was on spring break from her freshman year at the University of Delaware when she was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident. She suffered a spinal cord injury resulting in a C5/C6 contusion, fracture and subluxation, paralyzing her from the neck down.
For the next six months, Karch-Capitelli, who had been on the school’s tennis team, and had a dream of playing professionally and opening an indoor athletic facility, was confined to a wheelchair.
“After the injury,” she said, “I lost my identity — I didn’t know what to do.”
Coupled with a physical incapacitation was the frustration she and her family encountered when seeking treatment.
Karch-Capitelli said she “drove all over the country and flew all over the world” for rehabilitation. Repeatedly, she said she was met with the same hands-are-tied reception.
“The commonality was that they all said, ‘Be thankful for what you have, but we can’t help you, you’re out of our scope of practices.’”
Fortunately, Karch-Capitelli eventually recovered and moved to South Florida after graduating with a degree in exercise physiology with a minor in biomechanics.
She then completed the Life Change Program at the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, and got a job at a destination spa in Palm Beach.
Though she wasn’t playing tennis professionally, and still suffered residual physical affects from her injury, Karch-Capitelli didn’t give up on her dream of helping those in the same debilitating position from which she had recovered.
In 2001, Karch-Capitelli moved to San Diego, where she became a certified massage therapist after completing her training at the International Professional School of Bodywork. She then worked as a personal trainer for a spinal cord recovery clinic, and in 2004 put her passion and experience into practice by opening Awakenings.
Though AHI provides such a beneficial, comprehensive service, meeting its clients’ physical and emotional needs, Karch-Capitelli said her company still suffers from misperceptions; people are skeptical of anything deemed “alternative” medicine, she explained.
To that end, Karch-Capitelli has her sights set in the upcoming year on shifting people’s ideas and increasing awareness for the clientele — a “forgotten population,” she said — that AHI has dutifully helped for the past six years.
The company is working on obtaining government funding by proving that those who are treated at AHI require fewer hospital visits and, with effective, comprehensive long-term care, are able to go off disability and get back to the workforce.
Awakenings Health Institute is located at 110 North Rios Ave., Solana Beach. For more information, visit www.awakeningshealth.org or call (858) 794-9952.
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